Dale Critz Jr. had millions riding on his bid for a presidential pardon. Scion of a prominent family in Savannah, Ga., Critz was poised to inherit the luxury car dealerships his grandfather had built in one of America’s most historic cities.
But Critz’s past blocked his way. Years earlier, while learning the ropes at an unrelated dealership in Florida, he took part in a scheme to falsify loan documents for low-income car buyers. He pleaded guilty in 1989 to a felony — a conviction that could have prevented him from owning the family business. Many automakers do not let felons run their franchises.
(Lara Solt/The Dallas Morning News) - Nancy Goodman of Plano, Texas, greets former mayor David McCall at a ceremony in his honor for the dedication of a plaza in his name held at the Courtyard Theatre on Feb. 9, 2004. On Valentine’s Day 2004, McCall became President George W. Bush’s 12th pardon.
(Richard Burkhart/Savannah Morning News) - Dale Critz Jr., shown speaking during a United Way celebration at the Savannah Civic Center in Georgia, became, at 48, one of the youngest people pardoned by President George W. Bush on Dec. 21, 2006.
So in late 2000, Critz embarked on a campaign for forgiveness. He enlisted the help of Republican Rep. Jack Kingston, a family friend, Georgia neighbor, and regular recipient of political donations from Critz and his family.
Over the next six years, Kingston personally pressed for Critz’s pardon, writing the Justice Department and twice calling the top pardon official, Roger Adams. Adams’s recommendations are first seen by the deputy attorney general and then sent to the White House for the president’s approval or denial. In Critz’s case, the deputy opposed the pardon, noting that Critz had lied on his pardon application and to the FBI during his background check, and the recommendation did not go to the White House.
A year later, with a new deputy in place, Critz got what he wanted. On Dec. 21, 2006, he became, at 48, one of the youngest people pardoned by President George W. Bush.
Since 2000, a total of 196 members of Congress — 126 Republicans and 70 Democrats — have written to the pardons office on behalf of more than 200 donors and constituents, according to copies of their letters obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Many of the letters urged the White House and the Justice Department to take special note of felons whom lawmakers described as close friends.
A statistical analysis of nearly 500 pardon applicants during the Bush administration suggests that advocacy makes a difference. Applicants with a member of Congress in their corner were three times as likely to win a pardon as those without such backing. Interviews and documents show a lawmaker’s support can speed up a stalled application, counter negative information and ratchet up pressure for an approval.
Adams, who ran the Justice Department’s pardons office from 1998 to 2008, acknowledged the potential value of congressional letters. “If the official does know the person,” Adams said, “it gives it some weight.”
A Justice Department spokeswoman said that the agency would not comment on any individual cases but added that the process is not subject to influence.
“Any third party is free to express support for a pardon request, and those letters are part of the executive clemency file,” the spokeswoman said. “The title or position of the third party who expresses his support does not play a role in the review process.”
A ProPublica analysis of presidential pardons published Sunday revealed a pattern of racial disparities in pardon awards. The review found that white applicants were nearly four times as likely to receive pardons as all minorities combined. Congressional influence did not account for the racial disparity.